Eric broods behind his mask as we exit the hotel. I should have waited until we got home to reprimand him but Erelim Isis infuriated me far more than I should have let her and I had to project it onto someone.
We walk the crowded streets of 44th feeling the eyes of Angels from distant windows. I hang off the side of the street hunting for a taxi but I’m not very good with the traffic. My confidence was shattered by Isis’ overwhelming presence and to be honest, this place frightens me. The noise, the amount of cars, the people: it’s almost too much for the senses.
“Let’s go to Times Square. I’ve never been.” Tristan pulls at my arm.
“There’s a reason for that. The sooner we leave, the better.”
There are many places in the world that are restricted to Newborns like us. I prefer to journey to the places I’m allowed.
“She was lying, you know.” Tristan tentatively begins.
Eric shoots him down before he begins. “You’re barmy, Tris. Leave it alone, mate.”
I readily agree, “We’ll talk about it at home. And I don’t plan to walk out of this city. How she managed to get Runes covering this entire place is beyond me.”
It’s intimidating how powerful she is. Within a ten-minute conversation, she managed to make me feel like I was a newly sprung Angel discovering how to operate my wings. I’ve not felt so tiny and insignificant since I Fell. Clearly I made a mistake coming here but I’d be damned if I let Eric and Tristan know she managed to damage my dignity.
Our attention quickly turns toward a dark alley where the sun doesn’t reach. I can only make out the glittering of his armor. As we step closer, he is a giant of a man, reminding me too much of Erelim Elder Dion that I recoil before allowing my wards into his space.
“You are Kio’s Heir?”
Unsurely, I nod.
“I am Vaul. A Shini. I have information on your ward but first I will have you answer my question. Agreed?”
Sucking in unneeded air, I accept his terms.
“What do the Elders say about Tymician?”
Tristan and Eric wait for my words and I have no choice. I will not lie to an Angel.
“They will announce his death today.”
It may seem unfair to my wards how easily those words pass my lips. Eric darts away, allowing the populace to form a wall between his grief and us.
It’s not that I’m impassive but I simply do not agree with the Elders. I’m going to prove that Tymician is alive. I haven’t lost faith in him.
“Then get out of this city as fast as you can. You are in great danger. Your ward, the girl, she is with an Angel. Her Light is—
“She’s always been unusual.”
“She is being hunted. Send someone, an Elder if you can, to look for her, someone you trust. She is in peril but yet so are you. They come for your throne. Be careful with your Soul.” He touches a necklace upon his chest. “Take this. Use it to hide yourself.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“Tymician chose you. What other reason do I need?” He yanked the chain off and it falls to the floor.
I could call upon the Source to locate his Soul but that is like turning on a beacon to my enemies’ radar.
Tristan picks the chain up between his long fingers, analyzing it. “What is it?”
I twist the small medallion over, reading the Arabic writing on the back. “It’s a hollow. Beings like him, shini and Angels that do not possess human bodies can’t be seen unless you are connected to the Source. This allows us to see them. Humans can see them too. This little ruby in the middle acts as a mediator, solidifying the Soul.”
I push us on to continue our trek away from the hotel. Eric lingers behind, refusing to communicate.
“So why would this help you?”
“For Angels and Fallen with human bodies, it does something different. It hollows you out. It makes you human.”
“Why would you want that?”
I struggle to make him understand. “Let me give you an example. Erelim Isis can’t travel the world without being noticed. Her Soul is too bright and large. She wears this, and no one can detect her.”
Tristan plays with the necklace, contemplating, “Why doesn’t she get tattoos, like Tymician?”
“Tymician’s tattoos are very special. They required a great deal of personal sacrifice and it was the tattoo that led Tymician to create the Hollow. He didn’t want others to go through what he had too. It’s because of him so many are safe from being hunted.”
A subtle sadness mulls over his visage. It’s the only form of grief we can manage as Fallen. “I’ll never know how much Tymician truly did for us, will I?”
I place my hand on his shoulder and look up, “I’ve read every book possible and I still don’t know enough. He never wanted you to idolize him. He just wanted a family. And I think we did a good job in providing that.”
Eric hollers, having managed to get a taxi while we were talking. He apparently doesn’t want to go sightseeing. It’s hard figuring someone out when they are distant. It’s near impossible when I can’t even see the emotion on their face or read the reaction in their eyes. He hides so much that sometimes I’m unsure if we are friends.
I’m thankful for Tristan. He manages to weave his way into Eric’s detachment and pulls him out of his thoughts. They laugh now in the back seat. I look behind me and Eric’s mask rests in his lap. He smiles broadly, pulling at the fragmented membrane of his deformed lips.
Eric fights Tristan for his phone, twisting the skin on his arm, pulling at his wrist, “Leave her alone.”
“When was the last time you talked to her?”
“Been a bit, yeah?”
“You got to call. Girls want you to call. Isn’t that right, Felix?”
I shrug, “Last time I dated a human girl, she ran off with a guy that had a bigger horse.”
They silently reflect before Tristan decides to disregard my words, “Call her.”
“I will when we get home.” He snatches the phone, stuffing it quick in his pocket.
I lift my gaze and notice a black SUV behind us. I discard it at first, facing the front. The taxi driver is an older black man with pictures of his family posted on the dashboard. There is a cross dangling from his rearview mirror.
“Your family is--”
The word clogs my throat. There is a tattoo on the inside of his wrist, a barely visible mark that no one else would have seen if that SUV hadn’t woken up a spark in my nerves.
“My family’s what?” The guy probes.
I clear my throat and force a smile, peeking to the side mirror. The SUV continues its pursuit even though we’ve turned onto another road. I can’t make out the driver or its passengers through the dark tinted windows. “Lovely. Your family’s lovely.”
I shift, furtively removing my phone, holding it against my hip.
The driver cackles, reaching into the side compartment of his door. “Now why did you have to go and do that?” He points a sleek silver pistol at me, glancing in his rearview mirror, checking on my wards. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot your boss.”
I keep calm if only to keep Tristan and Eric composed. “What do you want?”
“You’ll find out soon enough. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Felix.” Tristan whimpers.
“It’s alright.” I assure. “The Messiah likes making deals. He’ll take us to his supervisor and we’ll negotiate.”
The driver abruptly comes to a stop, “Get out.”
He’s taken us to Central Park, the cemented sidewalks and the sculptures I’d only seen in movies and documentaries. This area is completely off limits to the Undead populace. The Merci owns this sacred land and they use it for teaching. To break into the property is a felony and ridiculously hard to do.
Eric reverts back into his mask and stays silent. I always wondered how much Eric learned during his years as a Clan-less Fallen. His lack of questions and his distance unnerves me.
Tristan is on my heels as we walk pass the famous fountain and along the river. “What’s the Messiah?”
“They are a bunch of radicals, Fallen and Angels that believe they have the right to control the world.”
Eric voices offhandedly, “I thought them Liberals.”
I sneer, “They’re psychotic. They kill whoever they chose, a demented idealism of supremacy.”
We come upon a bridge and I’m not quite prepared for the sight of them. Ten members of the Messiah are dressed as the US Special Forces, covered from head to toe in specifically designed clothing to protect their bodies and their Souls. They wear facemasks, revealing only their hard-core gazes as they watch us approach. Their hands tighten on their rifles but they keep the barrels pointed on the floor. I wouldn’t have recognized them for anything evil except for the fact that they stand here, ready to greet me.
In the center, a soldier steps towards us, pulling up his mask from his mouth. He smiles in greeting as if this is a sociable conference.
“Kio’s Heir. Look at you. An Irish stud.” His boys chuckle and he grins.
“Tell me what you want. I have things to do.”
“Well, that’s a little unfriendly, don’t you think? As a leader, Felix you should always start with formalities. I am a Hikmah Angel. I deserve a little respect.”
I connect to the Source but they all possess hallows, hiding their Souls. But in doing so, it makes them incapable of using their Light to protect themselves. I can overpower them in moments, even as young as I am.
He called himself a Hikmah, but he left an important detail. “You lack Elder-hood. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that you’re all murderers.”
The amiable expression on his visage dissipates and he holds up a hand. I hadn’t seen movement but now I spot a soldier hesitant to lower his weapon. They seem to be sensitive to the truth. Usually bigoted people are.
“We received a contract for ten million to kill you. Though that is pretty low on the line of our normal standards, our leader approved it. Lucky for you, we don’t do everything he tells us too.”
The driver approaches his boss and whispers in his ear.
He seems a little disappointed, as he looks us over. “Psychotic.” He smiles sarcastically. “I would have offered you thirty million to keep your life. Now I want fifty.”
I balk, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
“I don’t think you fully grasp who we are. Lou, Kyle, Silver, if you please.”
The three men shift their rifles over their shoulders and approach. I quickly take my stance preparing for a fight. I’m not ready when I’m struck from behind by the butt of a gun. I land on the ground and Lou is kicking my ribs, smashing his heel into my face and his fist into my skull.
I latch onto his foot at one point and manage to bring him to the ground but Kyle and Silver dig their knees into my back, keeping me still. They stretch my arm out on the ground and I watch as Lou slaps the butt of his gun onto my fingers, breaking them instantly.
Fallen feel pain just as well as Angels and humans. The fun part about it, is that we heal instantaneously. Lou waits but twenty seconds to break my fingers again.
Kyle and Silver lift me to my feet, holding my arms tight behind my back, pushing my broken fingers up into my shoulder blades.
The swelling in my eyes recedes and I blink to find the proud look of the Messiah. The boss pulls out a small silver pistol and holds it up. In my horror, he doesn’t point it at me. Eric and Tristan fight against their captors, paying little attention to the gun directed at them.
“Do we have a deal, Felix of Kio? Or do you need more proof that you are not in control here?”
Helicopters sound in the distance.
The Messiah anxiously begin to pull away and the ones holding onto us dart off. It’s like we weren’t even there. They dive into the Dust and are gone, leaving us behind.
The helicopters rush over the tree line and float above the water, pointing powerful long-range firearms. “Stay where you are!” They shout over the intercom. “This is private property, owned by the Merci. You are trespassing and shall be detained! Do not run.”
Through the grass and up the sides of the river, dozens of soldiers surround the bridge dressed in black and gold. On the side of their sleeve is a symbol I know well. It is an Egyptian hieroglyph for Aten, a gold sun with stretching rays pouring out.
Isis’ army encircles us. I was quite sure I wouldn’t have to see that woman for a long time.
The Messiah managed to elude their hands. I wouldn’t doubt they use forms of dark magic that I couldn’t possibly understand.
Isis treks towards us in a beautifully hand-designed yellow dress. Her dark tanned skin, her curling black hair and dark shady eyes makes her a vision I’m unworthy of. She can be a model, strutting on a walkway right now. She is no doubt the most stunning woman. But it’s the smirk on her painted lips that kills any allure.
And the fact that she’s a foot taller than me.
“I’ve caught little guppies in my net.” She murmurs playfully.
Rushing up behind her, Hikmah Elder Misha comes to my side with a furrowed brow full of worry, “Are you well? Let me look at you. Did they touch you? I’ll have their heads? Tristan? Eric? What happened? Are you alright? You look just fine. Good.” She swirls, her brown hair slapping me in the face, “Thank you, Erelim Isis for your corporation. You are a saint of saints. We are indebted to you.” She bows low, pressing her fingertips to her forehead.
I think it’s a little over the top, especially by the haughty grin she gives me, as if she won some game.
Isis nods her head, “It is my duty to protect the weaker race of God’s children. I am relieved we made it in time. You were very lucky, Elder Misha to receive a warning. I assure you that will not always be the case.”
“Yes, indeed. Thank you for your care and your advice. We shall not take up any more of your precious time.”
“I will make a statement to the Merci. You need not worry about their interrogation. You should get your children home.” Isis flicks her fingers and it doesn’t take but a moment for the helicopters to vanish and the dozens of soldiers to disappear. She has a waiting limo and with one last proud smirk, she too leaves the vicinity.
I keep Tristan and Eric in front of me. It forms as an assurance that they are all right but it also structures as a wall between Misha and I. She is quiet and the only time she is quiet is when she is livid.
Misha hosts a Dust portal and we follow. My foot only touches the white dimension before she wings around on me. “What were you thinking? Were you thinking at all? You can’t just do whatever you want, you aren’t some Clan-less child floating around the planet! You are the heir to the most desirable clan of our society. You know better! I know you do because I’ve taught you myself. Tymician taught you, Phil taught you. What do you think you were doing out here?”
I glower at our shoes. Eric and Tristan stare at me. They’ve never witnessed me pouting, then again they’ve never seen me being chastised either. I’m not so different from them, no matter how much I try to be. It’s another reason why I’m not supposed to be king.
“I want to find Kyla.”
She sighs, adjusting her thickly woven dress. “I’m being insensitive, I realize. I’m an Elder so you will pardon my callous nature. If Tymician is gone, then acknowledge that she is gone as well.”
“But she’s not.”
Tristan readily tells her about the Shini. He continues to explain how Erelim Isis lied to us about Tymician. I feel less insane as I listen to him. He believes in our mission, despite Eric staying silent.
Misha digs through her frumpy purse and places her IPad on her lap but scoffs. Technology doesn’t work in the Dust. She frustratingly goes on, “This Kyla doesn’t exist in the Clan archives. The only picture I have is from the restaurant security tapes. I’m assuming Tymician had a reason to keep her hidden. Unfortunately, I’m not someone you can trust with such information, Felix. I deal with the Ruling. I keep in constant contact with your opponents. If they have a Special, like Tristan, I cannot ensure secrecy. So you may form a team on your own to find her. But not you. You must stay in the house!”
“Hold on. Special? What do you mean, like Tristan.”
He mumbles, “I tried to tell you.”
“Tristan is a Special. He’s a Truth Reader. He can tell when someone is lying. He reads the waves of Light. Tymician would bring him to many a meeting. There are many kinds of Specials. Fortunately you have them all in your service.”
“Perks of being King. Now, form your team but you are not allowed out of the house, do you hear me? You will follow Phil’s command. We want to help you succeed, Felix. We can’t do that if you’re dead.”
As a hook sinking its thick steel into the jaws of an unsuspecting shark, a snag excruciatingly pierces my chest, ripping a hole into my breastplate and yanks me off my feet. I fall flat, gasping in agony.
Groaning and cringing, I console the remaining ache that slowly begins to fade as I lie there, terrified to move. The floor is cold but a comfort to my senses, assuring me that I’m alive.
When I am brave enough to question what happened, my eyes peek open and I find I’m no longer in the Dust but laying in the center castle of Hell.
Panic seizes my nerves. I sit up on my knees and gawk at the familiar paintings upon the walls. Each illustration is a massive ornate design full of graphic depictions defining the downfall of humankind.
From the first massacre of Atlantis, to the terrible flood, to the crucifiction of the second Son of God, Lysander, to the most recent evidence of human malfeasance: the holocaust; these pictures are full of blood and bodies, drolling red down the walls.
My knees wobble in a vain attempt to get to my feet. I fall back against the wooden doors to the greeting hall. I would vomit if I had any like reflexes. Instead, I must face terror head on.
Laid out in front of me is a white lush carpet, guiding the way to the next great room. Pillars line up alongside it, a mesh of black and white marble. Feathers decorate the tops of each column, a snub to the wing-less race of Fallen.
I cannot fathom why Lucius summoned me to his Kingdom. He waits for me just on the other side of the grandiose doors at the end of this hall. And though I shake and quiver, I push myself from the exit and take an unsure step forward.
I am relieved Tristan and Eric aren’t here. I would be so ashamed for them to witness my cowardice.
The day I Fell, sixteen hundred years ago, I met Satan for the first and last time. So long ago and I still remember the terror. I thought I’d never have to see him again.
I stand in front of the entrance. The doors crave with intricate designs, languages I will never know or be able to understand. My fingers trace their beautifully woven letters wondering about their birth. I imagine if Tymician had been around when this was created.
Tymician brought me to this room once. I did not fear then. He spoke of Lucius like a brother and a friend. I stayed in this greeting hall as he went off to communicate with the Lord of Darkness. I spent hours going over each marvelously drawn illustration, intrigued by its conception.
His confidence fills me. If I could be only a third of a man he was, I could be a king worthy of Kio. I could face the Devil of Sheol.
I shove through, only to hold up a hand to the blinding light through the obscure shadows. I notice dozens of candles decorating the walls and hundreds on tables and the floors. Their melted wax drenches the black marble ground from years of corrosion. Wax rivers cascade down the stonewalls and end in solid warped pools.
It has the feeling of a dungeon with the prisoner being uncared for and unloved.
Upon the steps of his dais, Lucius stands. His three sets of wings spread wide, the feathers extend, and dispel the Darkness. Blood red pants flow down, drowning his feet while his massive chest remains bare and glistens from the light. White hair shimmers around his face, ending just below his wide proud shoulders. Gold bracelets decorate his thick and fine cut arms and his fingers loosely lay, relaxed and composed.
He is a magnificent piece of God.
I have unknowingly gotten closer in my stupor and I fall to my knees, unworthy to be any way else in his presence. “Your Majesty.” I manage to get out.
Lucius folds one set of wings at a time before they all comfortably tuck into his back, draping down behind him like a massive winter robe. I find myself growing envious as I watch every movement of each silky feather. It is as one who has lost an arm, aching for that piece of himself. I have forgotten what it’s like to have wings until this moment. The pain returns to the scars on my back and the memory of my Fall bursts in my eyes.
He speaks and my attention flies. His voice is profound and vibrates my chest. “Bring me the girl.”
Lost in a moment of self-indulgence, it takes me a minute to figure out whom he requests.
Questions surge in my head as Kyla reigns in my thoughts. “I don’t know where she is, your majesty.”
His crystal eyes flip down to me. I see the reflection of God within him. “Find her.”
My brows narrow. Lucius is able to steal any Fallen off the face of the Earth. He’s proven that by taken me.
Why can’t he take Kyla?
Was Tymician right all along? Is Kyla different? He was keeping her secret from so many people, did this include Lucius, his own best friend?
If I find her for Lucius, I will be going against everything that Tymician was trying to prevent. I will be betraying what Tymician might have died for to protect.
In a moment of fear, I question. “Where is Tymician?”
His wings flicker and his eyes move from mine. He gazes out a distant window. “That is not your concern.”
“Tymician knew her better than me. He can find her.”
So swiftly, he brings his eyes back upon me. Fear inhales my chest. I’m too close to the fire. I’m not Tymician or Dion. I’m not an Elder. I don’t have the strength to stand up against him and I don’t want to cease to exist. Just like the Messiah made me realize, I’m not in control.
“Tymician betrayed me.” He seethes, taking a step down from his dais.
With my head raised back, I keep eye contact, the blue so vivid I can make out the pupil of his orb.
He leans over me, pushing only a portion of his Light upon me, I feel a world on my chest. “And you would be wise not to do the same.”
I choke, clenching my fists to keep from screaming in pain.
“War is approaching and that girl is a key I will have. You will bring her to me. Before the Vetalas eat her Light. Do you understand, Felix?”
I stutter on a response and I lick my lips to get them moving again, “Sh. She’s. She’s nothing, Master. She’s just a kid.”
He pulls away, yanking back. I fell forward on my hands, gasping for air I didn’t need to ease the ache. His wings brush against me as he turns around and sits upon his dais. The feathers roll out around him, like a snowy blanket. “Children play their parts as well.” He murmurs playing with the white quills carelessly, “When she arrives by your hand, I will grant you Elder status, Felix.”
Elder-hood? At my age? It’s unspeakable!
“If she does not, I will take from you someone that will serve me better.”
Toward the door, he ignites a hologram, revealing Eric entering his bedroom. Fretfully I observe him as he removes his mask, lying down on the bed to make a phone call to his girlfriend. He smiles, his eyes lighting up in a happiness that it is rare for me to see.
“Do you know what Slipping is, Felix? In Heaven when an Angel begins to Slip, they have run out of love. They have realized that love is a feeble and fragile thing and they seek the edge of Heaven to join us here. When Fallen Slip, they’ve succumb to the inevitable fate that Darkness in the only conquering force in this realm. Pitifully, there are not many that sustain here. They become Demon food or Alu delicacies. I hear their screams from this distance.”
I stumble forward, “Please.”
He chortles, looking down at my wretched begging with a sparkle in the crystal of his beautiful god-like eyes. “You wish to save him? Or her?”